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Opening week versus Ball State is Illinois’ most winnable game in 2017

The Illini welcome the Cardinals to Ball State in Week 1

Western Michigan v Ball State Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

2016 Final S&P+ Rk: 84

2016 Off. Rk: 65

2016 Def. Rk: 101

If you are the kind of person who likes to follow trends, then Illinois football will defeat Ball State 52-3 in Week 1 at Memorial Stadium. The Illini crushed Kent State and Murray State the past two years, each game by the score of 52-3.

While the Illini may not win by seven touchdowns in the 2017 opener, a visit from the Cardinals should not cause many Illinois fans to panic.

Ball State (4-8 in 2016) finished towards the bottom of the Mid-American Conference last season. The Cardinals dropped their only game to a Power 5 opponent, as well. It was a 30-20 Week 2 loss to in-state foe Indiana.

One area the Illini can look to expose the Cardinals in the season opener is in the run game. With halfback Kendrick Foster, dual-threat running quarterback Chayce Crouch and Ball State losing nearly its entire defensive line, Illinois’ power running game will look as successful as ever in Week 1. Establishing the run early in the game will allow Crouch to air out the ball several times, allowing fans to see the return of wide receiver Mike Dudek after two years lost due to injury.

If Ball State somehow stays in the game, the Cardinals were 1-4 in 2016 when the game was decided by one possession.

All in all, it just seems unlikely that Illinois flounders against a middle-of-the-pack MAC team, but in 2017, anything that could happen might happen with the Illini.